This is a scarce and important 1772 Robert de Vaugondy composite map of California, combining five seminal maps on a single sheet. European understanding of the region’s geography was convoluted and changed many times over more than a century. This map, engraved by the important French cartographer Robert De Vaugondy for the 1772 edition of the Denis Diderot (1713-84) Encyclopedie
, traces the gradual clarification of the geography of California through five key stages.
Stages of California Mapping
It opens with the work of Italian cartographer Matheau Neron Pecci (1604) which correctly presumed that the main body of California extended southward into a peninsula. The next map illustrated, by Nicolas Sanson in 1656, was among the most influential of the maps of the 17th century to propose an insular California. Map no. III, by Guillaume Delisle (1700), was one of the first maps produced by a prominent geographer to abandon the insular California. The fourth is the seminal Kino Map. This map, rendered by a Jesuit missionary c.1705, was the work that finally disproved the California as an island theory. Father Franz Kino walked this region between 1698 and 1701. The final map, produced by unnamed Jesuits c. 1767, is a more accurate depiction of the Baja California peninsula. These maps all predate the discoveries of Captain Cook and hence Diderot's work was as much speculative as historical in many respects - although the Jesuit reports pertaining to California’s non-insularity were authoritative.
The idea of an insular California first appeared as a work of fiction in Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo's c. 1510 romance Las Sergas de Esplandian
, where he writes
Know, that on the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it is peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they live in the manner of Amazons.
Baja California was subsequently discovered in 1533 by Fortun Ximenez, who had been sent to the area by Hernan Cortez. When Cortez himself traveled to Baja, he must have had Montalvo's novel in mind, for he immediately claimed the 'Island of California' for the Spanish King. By the late 16th and early 17th century ample evidence had been amassed, through explorations of the region by Francisco de Ulloa, Hernando de Alarcon, and others, that California was in fact a peninsula. Nonetheless, by this time other factors were in play. Francis Drake had sailed north and claimed Nova Albion, modern day Washington or Vancouver, for England. The Spanish thus needed to promote Cortez's claim on the 'Island of California' to preempt English claims on the western coast of North America. The significant influence of the Spanish crown on European cartographers spurred a major resurgence of the Insular California theory.
Printed Maps with Insular California
The earliest surviving map to illustrate California as an island is considered to be the 1622 title page to the Michiel Colijn edition of Antonio Herrera's Descriptio Indiae Occidentalis
. Even so, the insular California convention formally dates to 1620, when the Dutch seized a Spanish ship transporting the account of Friar Antonio de la Ascension, which was intended for the Council of the Indies. In that work, the good Friar apparently asserted his strong belief that California is insular - although his sources are unknown. While the Friar Antonio account is now lost, a legend on the Henry Briggs map of 1625 conveys this information and that Briggs saw such a map in 1622. Colijn may have seen the same map when preparing this Herrera title page.
Publication History and Census
This map is part of the 10 map series prepared by Vaugondy for the Supplement to Diderot's Encyclopédie,
of which this is plate 5. The Supplément à l'Encyclopédie
is well represented in institutional collections. We see six examples of the separate map catalogued in OCLC.